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The Saudi-led blockade won't end anytime soon but Qatar has moved on

  • Ebrar Sahika Kucukasci
  • 20 May 2019

Qatar has managed to gain independence from the Saudi-UAE sphere of influence and might be better off for it in the long run.

A depiction of Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, attracts signatures and comments of support from residents amid a diplomatic crisis between Qatar and neighbouring Arab countries in Doha, Qatar, July 3, 2017. ( AP Archive )

It's been nearly two years since the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar and the blockading countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt have failed to achieve any of their objectives. They initially blamed Qatar for supporting terrorism and cut their diplomatic, economic and social ties with the tiny Gulf state in the hopes that they could make Qatar a Saudi vassal state.

In the beginning, Qatar's logistical supply chain and shipment routes suffered, the UAE expelled Qatari nationals, separating families, and flights originating from Qatar had to take the long route since Saudi Arabia and Egypt closed off their airspace to Qatar. However, these problems were overcome in quick time.

Over the years Qatar has been able to leverage its soft power diplomatically and after the 'Qatar Crisis', it has flexed its political and economic muscles to turn the situation in its favour and make the blockade nearly a non-issue.

New political and economic alliances

Qatar further developed its relations with Turkey, and over the last couple of years, ties between both countries reached new heights, and Ankara fast-tracked its support to Doha, developing further its militarily cooperation with the latter and supplying food shipments and other necessary supplies.

Later, this cooperation widened to the economic sector with more Qatari investments entering the Turkish market and vice versa.

Additionally, instead of denting Qatar’s relations with Iran, the blockade has led to a rapprochement between Doha and Tehran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticised the siege and announced that Iranian air, ground and sea space are opened to Qatar. Subsequently, Iran sent food supplies and other resources to Qatar.

Later, Doha and Tehran entered an intense cooperation process through Qatar using Iranian airspace and shipping routes, while Iran boosted its trading with Qatar under the pressure of the impact of the US sanctions on its economy.

The blockading countries’ 13 demands to end the siege included cutting ties with Iran and the closure of the Turkish military base. In contrast, Qatar improved its ties with Turkey and Iran and the blockade has not managed to further isolate Qatar, or Iran for that matter.

Timely moves in the energy sector

Qatar, over the last year, has focused on boosting its liquefied natural gas (LNG) production.

In January 2019, Qatar withdrew from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to concentrate fully on the LNG sector. Being one of the smallest oil producers within OPEC, and since the latter was perceived as “an organisation managed by a country,” namely Saudi Arabia, leaving OPEC was a swipe at Riyadh and a clear signal that Qatar would never give up its independence.

In February 2019, Exxon and Qatar Petroleum announced that they would start the construction of Golden Pass LNG export terminal in Texas. Through this project, Qatar plans to enhance its overseas influence within the natural gas sector.

Later, in May 2019, Qatar Petroleum invited three groups to the tender package for engineering, procurement, and construction work to expand its LNG storage.

Considering these moves, it was evident that Qatar would continue to increase its influence in the energy sector without being distracted by the complications that usually accompany the OPEC business.

Separating itself from the blockading countries

In addition to building enhanced ties with Turkey and Iran and its decision to focus on its LNG production, Qatar has managed to bring itself out from under the Saudi-UAE sphere of influence. This proved to be a smart move, especially in light of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and numerous other questionable actions of the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

After announcing its decision to quit OPEC—which gathers 14 member states including Saudi Arabia and the UAE—Qatar has sent another message to these countries through the decision of Sheikh Tamim al Thani not to attend the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh in person. Instead, Qatar was represented by the minister of state for foreign affairs, lowering the level of representation.

Also, Qatar continued to claim a moral high ground and raise its voice about human rights in the Middle East, in contrast to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Besides their disastrous track record in Yemen, both Saudi Arabia and the UAE continue to be implicated in severe human rights abuses which are regularly exposed by the international media.

Qatar, on the other hand, has shown its commitment to initiate reforms. In 2018, Qatar passed several human rights reforms and pledged to implement several others. Qatar has been making significant moves regarding migrant workers’ rights.

While it is unlikely that the blockade will end any time soon, two years after it began, it is ironic that the draconian measures taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to isolate Qatar have instead had a  boomerang effect on their countries.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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